When buying chickens, especially for the first time, it’s important that you know exactly what to look for to make sure you are purchasing healthy hens. Here we’ve put together a list of what to check for when buying hens.
Go check the chickens in person
By far the most important thing you can do is to go to the breeder and see the chickens for yourself rather than having someone else select them and delivered to your door. This way, you get to inspect the conditions in which they have been reared and the health of the flock they have come from. Doing this will reduce the chance of bringing an unhealthy or infected hen into your flock.
Pick the best of the flock
When you purchase, always choose the healthiest and strongest looking hens you can. It’s a case of the survival of the fittest: choosing the best hens will give you a flock that is less prone to sickness, lays more eggs and has hens which live longer. In the same way that you should avoid the runt of the litter when choosing a puppy, avoid choosing the weaker hens. Strong birds tend to be higher up the pecking order and are better built – you can check this by inspecting the muscles on the breast, a bony breast is the sign of a wimpy chicken where as a decent thickness of muscle is an indicator of health and strength.
How to check for a healthy hen
A fit and healthy bird should be active and alert. The eyes should be bright, nostrils should be clear of discharge (chickens catch colds just like we do so listen for sneezing and wheezing!) and feathers should be clean and well-groomed – unless of course they are moulting. Its vent (backside) should be clean too, if it is well enough to take care of itself.
Also check the scales on its legs – they need to be smooth and the hen’s feet should also be free of sores or abcesses. The comb on its head should be fairly deep red in colour.. Finally, check to see if there are parasites beneath the feathers or wings. Some of these can be very small so it’s important to check carefully and thoroughly otherwise you could bring the parasites or mites home with you.
Signs of unhealthy hens
Do not buy hens that are drowsy, wheezy, hold their mouths open (unless it is a hot day), stand with their feathers fluffed up or that have bubbles or foam in the corner of their eyes. If there are other birds in the same flock showing these symptoms, it might mean that the flock itself is infected and that your chicken, whilst looking healthy now, might show symptoms after your get it home. Don’t risk buying these hens.
Quarantine new hens
Once you have taken your new hens home, it is important that you keep them quarantined from the rest of the flock for a few weeks. Whilst they might look fine, they may have an infection or infestation which at the time of purchase has not shown symptoms. Introducing them directly into your existing flock risks putting all your chickens at risk of cross-infection. If you quarantine the new hens any infection will show itself within a few weeks and can be dealt with before it yet will not be spread to your healthy hens.
If, after a couple of weeks in quarantine, they are still healthy, you can begin to integrate them with your other hens.
Choose a reputable chicken breeder
Lots of people sell chickens and the vast majority of those who do will do a good job in rearing them. However, there are always a few who, either through ignorance or malice, will sell chickens that are unhealthy. if you are buyng them for the first time and are not too sure what you are looking for then buying them form a reputable source can eradicate that risk. You can find a list of reputable chicken sellers here.